Exploring Chuck Berry’s Mark on Country Music
Country legends who reportedly despised rock 'n' roll made hits of Chuck Berry songs because they recognized how his music transcended genres. As country stars mourn the late rock legend, it's important to recognize his influence on the genre.
Perhaps only Elvis Presley was more influential in merging rock and country music in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Modern guitar pros like Keith Urban and Brad Paisley, as well as younger players like Frankie Ballard and Lindsey Ell, recognized his influence as a guitarist, but also a songwriter. Veterans like Charlie Daniels also tipped a cap to the 90-year-old "Johnny B. Goode" singer.
Look back further to find nods from stars who have passed. George Jones once told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Rich Kienzle that Berry was one of his favorite rock singers. The newspaper also quotes Buck Owens in talking about how he cut Berry’s “Memphis Tennessee” in 1965. "I shall sing no song that is not a country song," Owens said. Ernest Tubb was more emphatic about his dedication to country music, but he was among the first to pull from Berry’s songbook, turning “Thirty Days (To Come Back Home)” into a Top 10 hit in the late 1950s. That same year, Marty Robbins made a hit of "Maybelline," a song that would become one of Berry's signatures.
The Tennessean reports that Merle Haggard thought Berry was one of the best guitar players to ever live while pointing out that Johnny Cash and Jim and Jesse were others to cut his songs.
"Curiosity provoked me to lay a lot of our country stuff on our predominantly black audience," Berry said in his 1987 autobiography (quote via the Tennessean). " ... After they laughed at me a few times, they began requesting the hillbilly stuff and enjoyed dancing to it."
"Legend isn't a big enough word for you sir," writes Darius Rucker on Twitter. "Thank you for the poetry, passion and potency," adds Keith Urban. See a more complete list of artist reactions below, and watch Paisley pay tribute to Berry with a cover of his most famous song.
Country Mourns the Loss of Chuck Berry